Eklund returns to the Barracuda

Mar 20, 2023 - 5:47 PM
NHL: Minnesota Wild at <a href=San Jose Sharks" src="https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/Fm2lLlV9_Ue5THEGqE5DG_GUCBo=/0x232:4451x2736/1920x1080/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/72095222/usa_today_20259728.0.jpg" />
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, the San Jose Sharks sent William Eklund back to the AHL. The idea is he’ll play for the San Jose Barracuda for the rest of the season. While it’s tough to watch when you think about how well Eklund acquitted himself throughout his eight game stint with the Sharks this season, it makes sense from a business and development stance. This decision had nothing to do with Eklund’s play and everything to do with the future of the Sharks.

The Entry-Level Contract (ELC)

Through his short tenure with the Sharks, General Manager Mike Grier has dealt with tough business decisions. He was handed a team in cap purgatory and told to make a Cup contender. He’s dealt bad contracts, traded away players that don’t fit with the team’s timeline to contend (Timo Meier) and tried to build draft capital for a future run.

Whether that ends in a Stanley Cup is yet to be seen, but Eklund is expected to be a piece of that run and so this decision is one of the easier ones Grier has had to make.

Sending Eklund down helps the Sharks get another year out of Eklund’s contract. Eklund is young. He turns 21 in October and that October birthday is key. Under the Entry Level Slide rule, if a player is 18 or 19 as of Sept. 15 of the year they sign their ELC, then the contract can slide if the player fails to play 10 NHL games in that season. The contract allows for one ELC slide if the player is 19 and two if the player is 18.

You can check CapFriendly for more details on the ELC Slide rule.

Since Eklund was 18 when he signed and he didn’t turn 19 until a month later, that means the two year slide rule is in effect. Eklund’s nine games last season and eight games this season do not enact the first year of his ELC. That means the Sharks have three more seasons until Eklund becomes an RFA, starting next season.

Playoff experience matters

Like it or not, the Sharks are one of the worst teams in the league this season. The team was the first to be eliminated from playoff contention and sits 31st in standings as of this morning. San Jose is not going to the playoffs.

The Barracuda, however, have a shot. While the team is on the outside looking in at the moment, it’s close and every game for San Jose’s AHL affiliate matters. This is the game experience that Eklund needs and the organization knows it.

“It was a tough one, but the value of making the playoffs and potentially playing in a playoff series is huge for development,” said Head Coach David Quinn after informing Eklund that he’s headed back to the Barracuda. “He’s 20 years old. You know, we really liked what we saw in him up here. He gets an opportunity down there. He’s disappointed, get back at it and lead that team into the playoffs.”

Experience now will be valuable for when the Sharks find themselves trying to claw their way into a playoff position in the future.

The Calder race

I know there’s some guy named Connor Bedard likely entering the league next season and maybe an Adam Fantilli or a Shane Wright, but I think Eklund can give those guys a run for their money in the Calder race.

Watching Eklund, his game has matured and he’s a much more responsible, much more potent NHL player than he was when testing things out last season.

Give him a full 82 game season and I think we’ll see his name in the Calder race.

Mission accomplished

Finally, the point of bringing Eklund up this season was to see if he was ready to play NHL games.

He’s ready.

Coaches have seen a vast improvement in his game compared to where it was last season.

Quinn, a notoriously hard coach on young players, has liked Eklund’s game. So much so, that the coach handed Eklund more responsibility as his time with the club progressed, not less.

Eklund played top line minutes. He played on the top power play unit. And, in his final two games of the season, he received penalty kill time.

Eklund had three points (2 G, 1 A) in his eight games with the team this season, but he averaged 19:50 per game in ice time.

Final Thoughts

While it will be disappointing not to see Eklund out there on the ice for the remainder of the season, it is the best move for his development and gives the Sharks a better shot at making the Stanley Cup playoffs a few years down the road if all goes well.

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